An Islamic leader in Malaysia claimed trans people should check their genitals to determine which bathroom they should use, after government officials expressed some support for the LGBTQ community.
Following a controversy in which portraits of LGBTQ activists were taken down from an art exhibit on Penang Island, Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin took aim at transgender people in a Facebook post. Mohd, a preacher in the state of Perlis, advised that anyone who is “confused” about which restroom to go in should consult “an expert to examine him while he urinates to determine the origin of the urine.”
“If it exits from a male organ, then use the men’s toilet. If it exits from a woman’s genitals, then please use the women’s toilet,” he wrote on his personal Facebook page. “If nothing comes out at all or if it does not come out from either male or female genitals, then please go to the hospital.”
“If the doctors say you are disabled, then you can use the disabled toilet,” Mohd added.
The preacher’s comments were made in response to Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who held a public conference with trans advocate Nisha Ayub after ordering her portrait removed from “Stripes and Strokes,” in which celebrated figures posed with the Malaysian flag.
Yusof, an official in the Prime Minister’s Department of Religious Affairs, initially accused the exhibit’s organizers of promoting “LGBTQ culture in Malaysia.”
“I was informed that there was an exhibition that showed the LGBTQ pictures, along with the rainbow pride flag to represent the struggle,” he told local media last Wednesday, as INTO previously reported. “That is not in line with what we have consistently repeated in Parliament and the policy of this government.”
But speaking with Nisha on Thursday, the minister walked back his condemnation — saying he believes it’s OK if trans people use the restroom which most closely corresponds with their gender identity.
Speaking to Malaysia’s Today Online, Nisha called the moment historic.
“Before this no one at his level, who comes from the Islamic ministry, has acknowledged our basic human needs to use public toilets,” she claimed of the joint press conference, reiterating: “This is the first time our most basic needs are recognized.”
The seemingly softened stance toward its LGBTQ community, however, sparked backlash from religious conservatives in the majority Muslim nation. In a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of Malaysians claimed homosexuality should not be accepted by society.
Meanwhile, a majority of residents (58 percent) polled by IPSOS Mori earlier this year say LGBTQ people are not “real” Malaysians.
Thus, the new government — which came into power following the May elections — is attempting to strike a precarious balance over LGBTQ issues. After criticism from hardline Islamists, Yusof claimed the remarks on trans restroom use reflect his personal beliefs and are not official government policy.
Deputy Islamic affairs minister Fuziah Salleh further urged empathy and understanding for trans individuals — while declining to fully support inclusive bathroom access.
“They are psychologically women trapped in men’s bodies,” Fuziah said of transgender women, as Free Malaysia Today reported on Monday. “They do not feel safe visiting the men’s toilet, but their presence in a female toilet can also create discomfort among women. I try to understand them. We all have to use the toilet.”
The official told trans people to seek safe alternatives when using public toilets.
“So to me, the solution at present is for them to use the toilet for the disabled, until such time society is accommodating of them,”Fuziah continued.